JACKSON, Miss. – President Barack Obama declared a federal disaster Wednesday in Mississippi following a massive tornado that tore through a college campus and destroyed or damaged more than 800 homes in the southern part of the state.
Obama ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in Forrest and Lamar counties, which were severely affected by Sunday’s tornado and resulting severe weather.
The National Weather Service says the tornado had maximum winds of 170 mph and forged a path three-quarters of a mile wide.
The disaster assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover.
Authorities say damage surveys are continuing, and more counties may be included after those are completed.
Officials estimate it will take tens of millions of dollars to repair damage by the tornado at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
The College Board voted unanimously Wednesday to allow Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds to sign contracts and take other actions without board approval to help the 16,000-student school recover. Officials say USM plans to resume classes today, although 87 sections will be in temporary quarters.
The tornado damaged eight or nine buildings at the southern edge of the school’s campus. One of those, a former fire station converted to house the jazz program, will have to be torn down, Bounds says.
Most of the damage to the school is expected to be covered by a $500 million insurance policy. The policy carries a $100,000 deductible.